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REX HARLEY describes a magical concert experienced during a chance visit to the Leamington Festival


It was a week that had the potential of being memorable for all the wrong reasons. On Tuesday 6 May 2003 I simultaneously entered my fiftieth year, and found myself in the dentist's chair with a pair of pliers in my mouth. A few seconds later I and my wisdom tooth parted company. It was not before time. When the dental assistant saw the extracted thing she looked decidedly nauseous; even more so when I insisted on keeping it to show to friends and family. The lucky relatives themselves live in Coventry, so later that evening I drove up there. The next day I chanced upon the Leamington Festival, and on the Thursday, by this seemingly random series of events, I found myself at the noon concert in the Pump Room: and then I discovered why this week would truly be a memorable one.

Much as I was anticipating a fine concert, nothing could have prepared me for the glorious occasion at which I was privileged to be present. The performers appeared on stage. Raphael Wallfisch sat down, cello at the ready; Philippe Graffin, his violin tucked under his arm, waited for the welcoming applause to die down, and then launched into a small, idiosyncratic and intense lecture on the genesis of the first piece: Ravel's Sonata in A Minor. He kept remembering extra things to tell us, finally paused, checked with his cellist that he'd covered all the necessary ground, and then suddenly we were swept into a performance of the piece which kept the whole audience rapt, from the first note to the last.

It was utterly thrilling; electrifying. In fact, any attempt to render the experience into words runs the risk of grabbing for the most extreme and outrageous metaphors in order to convey just something of what it was like to be there, and to hear such music fill the air around us. If you weren't there, then it will probably all sound like pure hyperbole.

Raphael Wallfisch
Raphael Wallfisch

Frankly, I have never heard such rapport and musicianship on the concert platform as I did during this recital. The technique was faultless; the musical conversazione between the two players never faltered for a second; the range of tonal expression which they drew from their instruments, and the perfect dynamic balance between them, beggared belief. Nothing was forced, nothing was histrionic; but there was passion aplenty, and lyrical tenderness too. I knew beforehand how good Raphael Wallfisch was. To my shame, I had no idea what a master of his instrument Philippe Graffin might be.

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Copyright © 13 May 2003 Rex Harley, Cardiff, UK


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